Headshot of Professor Alasdair Coles, an MS researcher, looking at the camera.

Meet the researcher searching for treatments for everyone with MS

Professor Alasdair Coles is a researcher from the University of Cambridge. He told Research Network member Sarah Rees about his vision of a future where everyone with MS has access to effective treatment.

Those of us with MS owe a great deal to Professor Alasdair Coles’ determination. When he started out as a researcher he refused to believe MS was untreatable. Two decades on, there are over a dozen different disease modifying therapies (DMTs) for relapsing MS.

Alasdair played a key role in that progress, as part of the team that developed alemtuzumab (Lemtrada). “It’s quite extraordinary,” says Alasdair. “I could never have expected how far we’d get so soon.

The next challenge

In MS, the protective myelin coating around nerves gets damaged by the immune system and doesn’t repair itself as well as it should. As the number of drugs that reduce immune attacks has grown, researchers like Alasdair have started to focus more on MS progression. Myelin repair treatments could be the key to preventing disability progression in MS.

“It feels like we have more or less sorted the immune aspect of MS, and now we need to find treatments to stop progression” says Alasdair. “So the focus is now on myelin repair. Thankfully, there are brilliant scientists out there who have already cracked the fundamentals.”

The MS Society is currently funding a trial to test if bexarotene, a drug that is already licenced for use in skin cancer, could help the brain repair the damaged myelin. Results are expected later this year.

Real hope for the future

Alasdair is ambitious about the future of MS treatment. “I firmly believe we can change the outlook of MS,” he says. “I hope in 10 years’ time, a person will be given a handful of treatments to tackle all the different elements of MS, and they will be offered hope that their life will be minimally affected by the condition.”

Alasdair is determined to find treatments for everyone with MS. “Twenty years ago, when you were diagnosed, you were given a very restricted vision of the future. That is so much better now, but we still can’t treat progression. I want to give everyone hope, and let people have their ambitions, despite having MS.”

Stopping, not curing, MS

Alasdair says that scientists are not expecting to find a ‘cure’. “If you look at conditions like diabetes, there are no cures, but the experience of life for people with these conditions has radically improved. We want to stop MS so that people can live free from its effects. Stopping MS is now within reach - something I would never have thought possible a decade ago.”

This blog first appeared as an article in our Research Matters magazine. To get Research Matters by post please contact supportercare@mssociety.org.uk about subscription. You can also download the full issue for free.